Blog, News, Uncategorized

Row erupts in Newcastle Parish over Sinn Fein use of Parish Hall

An argument has emerged at the Church of the Assumption in Newcastle over their permitting the use of a parish hall for the Sinn Fein MP Chris Hazzard and his constituency clinic. One parishioner is quoted by the Belfast Telegraph (20/2/18) as saying that he is ‘…appalled at the decision of the Church authorities to allow, without any form of consultation, the use of parish property for party political purposes’, the parishioner goes on to say that he is ‘…hurt and disillusioned that a political party which is fully committed to the introduction of abortion on demand, on both parts of the island of Ireland, is to be allowed a potential propaganda platform for those views in a Catholic-owned and run facility’. A spokesperson for the Diocese of Down and Connor not only confirmed that Sinn Fein will be using the room in the parish hall but also stated that such hiring of rooms are ‘…under the understanding [that] the business conducted within the property is in alignment with the ethos of the parish community’. Rev Canon Ian Ellis of nearby St John’s Church of Ireland in Newcastle indicated that in their case such matters would go to the vestry to discuss, but that he thinks that it would be very unlikely that Sinn Fein would obtain the use of their facilities.

Surely it is somewhat inconsistent that an MP representing a party whose leader at their Ard Fheis in November 2017 called for the repeal of the 8th amendment in the South, who are vocally pro-abortion, who made the introduction of same sex marriage in the North a red line issue during the recent talks to restore devolution, and whose searing anti-Catholic rhetoric was applauded at their recent Ard Fheis should be allowed the use of a parish hall the conditions of which are that ‘…the business conducted within the property be in alignment with the ethos of the parish community’. Either Mr Hazzard has moved significantly away from the party political outlook of Sinn Fein in this case and aligned himself with the Catholic ethos of the community (in which case he should state this publicly) or the Church of the Assumption in Newcastle has overlooked the inconsistency between Mr Hazzard’s political views and their own Catholic ethos. We hope this matter is resolved soon and not repeated in other Catholic parishes across Northern Ireland.

Dr Gaven Kerr

Iona Institute NI


Press Coverage of the Marriage Gap Report

On Wednesday 14th February, the Iona Institute NI launched the marriage gap report highlighting the disparity in marriage figures between low and high income couples. The launch of this report coincided with press coverage in the Belfast Telegraph, the Irish News, with the Iona NI spokesperson, Tracy Harkin, taking to the airwaves on Good Morning Ulster and the Frank Mitchell show  to discuss the report.

For those of you who missed it the report can be found here:

You can also find the Belfast Telegraph and Irish New coverage here:

Iona Institute (NI)Press Coverage 14.02.2018

And listen to Tracy Harkin on the airwaves: [at 1hr 50mins]

Be sure to connect with us on Facebook and follow the website to remain up to date with the Iona Institute NI’s activities.

News, Press Releases

It’s Valentine’s Day and ‘Love is in The Air’ – but many couples in NI are too poor to tie the knot

New paper highlights huge marriage gap between social classes

60 pc of upper professional workers are married but less than a third of unskilled workers

Except for Christmas Day, Valentine’s Day is the most popular date for couples to get engaged.

But many couples in Northern Ireland are just too poor to tie the knot, according to a new report by The Iona Institute.

Entitled ‘Mind the Gap: Marriage and Family by Social Class in Northern Ireland’, the report shows that for many of the more socially disadvantaged in Northern Ireland the dream of walking down the aisle will never become a reality.

The figures, derived from the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) show that 60.7% of upper professional workers (‘Social Class A’) aged 18-49 are married, compared with just 32.7% of unskilled or elementary workers (‘Social Class I’).

Workers in professional occupations are almost twice as likely as unskilled workers to be married.

The huge discrepancy indicates that there are formidable social impediments to marrying if you are from a socially disadvantaged group. The report also shows that with one exception (plant and machine operatives (‘Social Class H’), the likelihood of being married becomes progressively less as we move down the social scale.

Commenting on the figures, Tracy Harkin of the Iona Institute said: “These impediments need to be fully explored and, where possible, removed. Anyone who believes in the importance of marriage should be deeply concerned about these figures. Why is it that the better off a person is, the more likely they are to be married, and the less well-off they are, the less likely they are to be married? Social disadvantage clearly diminishes a person’s chances of marrying and not marrying in turn increases the odds of remaining socially disadvantaged. It is a vicious circle and it is one that obviously affects children as well.

“A US study* by one of that country’s most esteemed social scientists has shown that if Americans married at the same rate as in 1970, rates of poverty in that country would diminish by between 20% and 30%.”

Tracy continued: “A key factor driving down the odds of marrying for those who are most socially disadvantaged is poorly paid insecure jobs. People are less likely to marry if they feel financially insecure. There are also disincentives to marry built into the social welfare system. It can be more financially advantageous for two people on social welfare to remain single than to marry.

“We ought to be able to agree that the big marriage divide which exists between the social classes is a matter of grave concern, something that must be tackled by our politicians, other policy-makers and opinion-formers.

Tracy Harkin concluded: “This is an issue of justice and of equality and cries out for public debate that will, hopefully, help us all to work to close the marriage gap between the poor and the better off in Northern Ireland”.

* Brooking Institute


Notes to editors

The report entitled “Mind the Gap: Marriage and Family by Social Class in Northern Ireland” by The Iona Institute is attached as a pdf.

[PDF Download] Mind the Gap: Marriage and Family by Social Class in Northern Ireland

The report focuses on the age group 18-49 because this is the age group in which people start their families.

The Iona Institute is a Christian advocacy group and research body.

Contact details

Tracy Harkin is available for interview:

Contact Tracy on 0753 1149891

News, Press Releases

[Report] Mind the Gap: Marriage and Family by Social Class in Northern Ireland

The Iona Institute has just launched a new report showing that a huge marriage gap exists in Northern Ireland (as in the South) between the most advantaged and disadvantaged groups in society. Those in the upper income groups are twice as likely to be married as those in the bottom income groups. This gap is much bigger than the gender pay gap which causes so much concern. The marriage gap must be highlighted and debate. Our report is a contribution to that.

You can read our report, and what is gap means.

Download the full report by clicking the link below;

[PDF Download] Mind the Gap: Marriage and Family by Social Class in Northern Ireland

Media, Press Releases

Response to Labour MPs visit to Belfast to discuss abortion law reform

The Iona Institute is disappointed to hear of a delegation of Labour MPs coming to Belfast today to meet with Amnesty International and the Family Planning Association – two organisations which have for many years been promoting the liberalisation of Northern Ireland’s abortion laws. Abortion is a devolved matter for Northern Ireland and repeated votes of the democratically elected Northern Ireland Assembly have been to retain our existing law – most recently in February 2016. The question has to be asked : why is the Labour party interfering at a delicate time in the political talks by promoting the failed policy of abortion here?

The Labour Party does not operate in Northern Ireland and its sister party the SDLP has a pro-life policy which specifically excludes the extension of the Abortion Act 1967 to Northern Ireland.

For 50 years the Abortion Act has operated in England and Wales and the consequences have been severe for mothers, babies, fathers and society in general. There have been 8.8 million abortions – the entire population of London; there is 1 abortion every three minutes; 1 in 5 pregnancies end in abortion; and there is abortion for disability up to birth. An alarming 38% of the 200 000 women who had abortions last year, had already had at least one abortion.

It is sad to see an organisation such as Amnesty International -which was set up to promote human rights -now fighting for completely unrestricted abortion- ending the lives of the most vulnerable human beings.

If the Labour party truly had the interests of NI women at heart it would be prioritising the return of the NI Assembly and it would be engaging in a conversation with the many women who oppose the liberalisation of our abortion laws.


Contact Tracy Harkin – Tel 07531 149891

The discussion on The Nolan Show earlier today is available here;